Knight Chair candidate discusses importance of First Amendment

Emily Andrews

Credit: Ron Soltys

More high school students can name five characters from “The Simpsons” than the five rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, according to a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation survey.

Mark Goodman gave a lecture yesterday called “First Amendment at Risk: Free Speech in Today’s Schools.” This is the second of four lectures given by the candidates for the Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism.

“Like the Oscars, it’s just an honor to be nominated,” Goodman said.

Goodman has been an executive director for the Student Press Law Center, which is an advocate for student press, for 21 years.

He asked a question for high school students: “Do you think you and your peers have a voice in school and the community, and can you have your voice heard?”

This was the theme of his lecture. He talked about high school students, the First Amendment and court cases that affect censorship issues today.

“The First Amendment is a really important issue and it doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves,” Goodman said. “Democracy can only exist where free speech is protected.”

He used court cases to show how the First Amendment has evolved to where it is now.

Some of the cases he discussed were:

– West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette in 1943, which was about students who did not salute the flag and were being punished. The court decided the punishment was against their First Amendment rights.

– Tinker v. Des Moines School District in 1969 was about students getting in trouble for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. The court said their First Amendment rights were being violated because they were not causing a disturbance.

– Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier in 1987 was about a high school newspaper that wrote articles about teen pregnancy, divorce and other subjects. The paper was censored because it wasn’t considered a public forum.

The Hazelwood decision causes a lot of confusion about censorship and the First Amendment, but is not the end of the discussion, Goodman said. It has loopholes and exceptions.

Goodman said the SPLC tells students and advisors three things they can do to avoid censorship. He said to not censor themselves, to make the school environment one that values the First Amendment and to make a place in the newspaper that says the paper is a public forum, because a public forum is harder to censor.

Three-fourths of high school students believe the First Amendment is of little relevance to their lives, according to the Knight Chair statistics.

“Kids sometimes don’t work as hard because they don’t appreciate (the First Amendment),” said Trevor Ivan, a senior newspaper journalism major and public affairs reporter for the Daily Kent Stater.

“People are dying for these freedoms in the Middle East, and they have to protect them here too,” he said.

Despite all his concerns about censorship, Goodman said he still has hope for the future. With all the communication technology, young people are getting a taste of free speech.

“After getting a taste, they are not inclined to go back,” he said.

Contact College of Communication and Information reporter Emily Andrews at [email protected].